BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Responding to a call from township residents for Bernards Township officials to advocate on their behalf regarding the service and communications practices of local utilities, including electric, internet, and water service, the Township Committee last week voted to set up a Utility Advisory Task Force.

"The providing of these services is essential to the safety, well-being, and livelihood of Bernards Township residents, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic when many residents have used their residences as workplaces and schools," says the resolution approved by the Township Committee.

The utilities to be addressed by the task force will include but not be limited to those utility providers, the resolution states. Residents have expressed concern about power outages lasting about a week following Tropical Storm Isaias in August, along with electrical outages even during calm weather. Residents also have questioned the slow internet service and lack of choice of internet options in parts of the township.

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The task force's mission is to assess the level of communication and service from the utility companies providing services to Bernards Township, identify areas of concern and in need of improvement, and to suggest ways to collect and report chronic outages and disruptions, facilitate and/or coordinate resident feedback to the state Board of Public Utilities, the resolution says. The task force also will represent Bernards Township customers before the BPU when appropriate, according to the resolution.

The task force is to report findings and recommendations to the Township Committee no later than June 30, 2021.

Township Committeewoman Janice Fields will represent the governing body on the task force.

The task force was set up by the Township Committee with an aim to be proactive in working with utility providers to identify causes of outages or other disruption of services so as to "reduce our vulnerability of same in the future, to identify service deficits and/or need for upgrades and to optimize communication between the utilities and its customers."

The task force will consist of up to eight members of the public, a Township Committee liaison (Fields), a member of the Office of Emergency Management, and Township Administrator Pat Monaco.

Mayor James Baldassare said he encourages anyone interested in serving on the task force to visit the Bernards Township website, and to complete a "Tap The Talent" form. Members will be chosen by the Township Committee and the "TTT" form is the starting point. Anyone with question should contact Municipal Clerk Rhonda Pisano, he said.